Jan 11 – The Panama Canal
East is east and west is west especially when you look at a map of the Western oceans. The Atlantic is obviously on the east and the Pacific is on the west. Except that’s always true. Because of the curve in Central America, there is actually a small area where the Pacific is east of the Atlantic. And, because of the curve, the Panama Canal actually runs from North to South [or South to North].
We spent the day traversing the Canal, a 12-hour journey. The Canal has a series of locks devised to raise or lower water levels so that ships can pass from one ocean to the other; sea level may seem to be a constant but there is a tremendous difference from one ocean to the other as they almost meet at the Isthmus of Panama. There are locks on the north connecting the Caribbean with Gatun Lake and then several sets of locks on the south end connecting the lake with the Pacific.
When the ships are in the locks, there is often very little clearance on the sides of the canal, so electric “mules” are used to keep them from hitting the sides. Originally, real mules were used. When the Canal opened in 1914, ships were considerably smaller than they are today, so it is unlikely that they would have had so little clearance on the sides. Today’s cargo and tanker vessels have gotten so big that new Canal locks are being built to accommodate their girth; as it is, many have to go around South America because they are too wide [and possibly too long] to fit in the original locks.
Since this was, in essence, a sea day, we followed the normal routine. However, we spent much of the day on the aft [rear] of Deck 3, the deck where our cabin is conveniently located. Called the Lower Promenade, this is the wrap-around deck which allows passengers to walk laps unobstructed. There were deck chairs arrayed across the space but very few people were there, so it was almost a private verandah if one did not count the walkers and joggers who passed by. Periodically, stewards came to offer cold tea, juice and cold towels to help alleviate the heat. We stayed in the shade as much as possible, but the towels felt really good on the backs of our necks.
Thanks to the crazy people and drunks on other ships, we could see only the sky from our lounge chairs. The same was true for everyone. As a safety precaution, there are no longer open railings on the ship. Instead of 2 or even 3 rails, there are barricades of solid metal to prevent passengers from falling or jumping overboard. This does not stop anyone who is determined to take the plunge, but it certainly slows them down. The result, from our perspective, is that one can no longer sit on deck and literally watch the world go by.
The Amsterdam passed through the first of 3 sets of locks around 8:45 this morning. We were able to watch some of it from the MDR, but our view was not good since we were not near a window. When we approached the second set, we were on deck and went as far forward as we could to take pictures. We had to go to Deck 4 to accomplish this and found ourselves in the brilliant -- and hot – sun. We took Flat Grandchildren pictures going into the lock and also pictures of them in front of the GWC insignia painted on the front of the ship. We escaped the sun and then took photos of them from Deck 3 as the gates closed.
Exhausted from our efforts so far, we returned to the cabin where regular readers know what we did.
Our friend Arthur, the ship’s rabbi, was one of the participants in The Liar’s Club, so we went between drinks and dinner. The game is a variation on To Tell the Truth, a television game show of many years ago. This was a perfect vehicle for Arthur who is a real story-teller. The show ran over and we were a few minutes late for dinner, but our dining room stewards weren’t concerned and dinner service was as smooth as ever.
There was a surprise in store for us, but first, a bit of history: When we sailed on the Prinsendam for the 2009 Grand Mediterranean cruise, our MDR stewards were Den Toro and his assistant, Mukti Ariyanto. MA still keeps in touch with them via Facebook and even exchanges messages with Mukti’s wife Yulianti. She refers to them as her Indonesian sons.
One night during that cruise, lemon meringue pie was on the menu. It is one of MA’s favorites but she wanted the staff to save it for the following night. When she inquired about it the next night, Den Toro looked at her and said sadly, “Mukti ate it.” They were upset even though we were not and we spent our time for the remainder of the cruise searching in grocery stores in Cadiz, Spain, and elsewhere for a lemon meringue pie for Mukti. Things seemed hopeless until we got to Bermuda where we found one. We brought it back to the ship and made a grand presentation to Mukti at dinner.
Flash forward: We were sitting at the table tonight, having already ordered cheesecake for dessert, when Mukti came into our section still wearing his uniform for the ship’s Italian dining venue. We had seen him at lunch and breakfast this week, and had talked to him at length each time, so we were not surprised that he was on the ship, but we did not know why he was in the MDR. Mukti approached the table and removed the lid from a dish to reveal 4 slices of key lime pie. Lemon meringue was not available, so he and we settled on key lime. It was wonderful, much better than the cheesecake. And he brought 4 slices so we could share with our neighbors. [He claimed that there were originally 10 slices and that he had eaten the other 6] We all laughed about the pie and explained the significance to Paul and Ann who also enjoyed the surprise [and the pie] with us.
Tomorrow: A day at sea